Howling winds reaching 25 meters per second. A thick snowfall creating a complete whiteout. Not so much as a sliver of blue skies in four days. Not quite the relaxing stroll through the beautiful fells of Jämtland we had imagined. But, as far as testing out gear goes, we couldn’t have asked for better conditions.
The Jämtland region of Sweden has long been considered a haven for lovers of the outdoors. So perhaps it is not surprising then that it is nowadays a hotspot for outdoor brands. Based in the region’s main city Östersund, you will find both the tent maker Hilleberg and wool manufacturer WoolPower. Hilleberg has been based here since the legendary Bo Hilleberg founded the company back in 1973.
Continue up towards the mountains and you will pass by Järpen and Lundhags who, much like Hilleberg, has stuck around in the same area since founder Jonas Lundhag lent the company his name even further back, in 1932. From Järpen you can continue your journey to Sweden’s biggest ski resort, Åre. Located at the centre of the village are the headquarters for outdoor clothing brand, and innovators, Klättermusen.
At this point you will have travelled less than 55 miles. When taking the beauty of the road into account those miles feel more like 5. Twice a year these companies who are connected by more than just geographical closeness invite selected retailers, we like to think because we have done something right, to test out the gear in the environment it was created.
March in Jämtland is unpredictable. In fact, the week before we arrived winds were low, temperatures reached a lovely ten degrees during the day and dropped pleasantly into low negatives during the night, keeping a thick snow cover in mint condition. There was nothing but blue skies, not a cloud in sight. “We haven’t had a week like that in years” we were told as we stepped of the plane greeted by low, and slightly depressing, clouds. During the time we spent out temperatures varied from plus five or six with rain, to around negative eight and howling winds. That previous week could have been a decade ago for all we knew. On the bright side, for testing out the gear these varying conditions couldn’t have been much more perfect or demanding.
Starting out on skis from Storulvån mountain station we made our way along the frozen river, rather than on it, due to the dubious status of the ice sheet covering it. The boots we were wearing were the Lundhags Guide BC Boots, a walking boot with an integrated cross-country ski binding. This boot follows the typical Lundhags shell principle, where you layer up with socks rather than having a thick lining sewn into the boot. As an additional layer of insulation these boots come with a removable felt liner. These felt liners repeatedly found their way into our sleeping bags at the end of the day. The smell easy to put up with, justified by the prospect of sticking your toes into frozen liners in the morning otherwise.
After a first night camp in relative protection from the wind the second day saw us cross over the fell in a complete whiteout The glimpsed feet of nearby mountains rising up into the low clouds on both sides made promises of grand views that we saw nothing of. That night was spent out on higher ground, before making our way down into woodlands on the other side. The tent highlight of the trip was the use of the impressive Hilleberg Keron 3 GT, probably the tent most frequently associated with Hilleberg. Despite the hard wind it was easily put up, aided by being able to work from your knees in the Lundhags hybrid trousers with waterproof reinforcements in the knees. Inside it was spacious, even for a guy measuring 6 foot 3 inches, with the gear pleasantly stowed away in the dug out vestibules. Perhaps the best praise I could give this tent is that when I, quite rested, in the morning joined the conversation in the group tent it was centred around the stormy conditions of the previous night, and the fact that apparently people had been helicopter rescued nearby. Personally I had nothing to add, since I had slept like a log the entire night and hadn’t even noticed the winds being anything out of the ordinary.
During the following day we passed by one of the typical Swedish mountain huts, where people who had made the seemingly more rational choice of hiking from hut to hut were inside enjoying a hot cup of coffee or chocolate. The final night camp, following a day of some skiing down powdered slopes worthy of a fall or two, was in a clearing in the pine woods well sheltered from the winds higher up.
Having finally reached Vålådalen mountain station after three and a half days of skiing in fairly tough conditions, we could enjoy a well-earned sauna with the knowledge that good gear does make a world of difference in these circumstances. But perhaps even more so than having the best gear, having a system for your clothing that you can actively use is key.
By having a layering system, you can easily adapt to changing conditions or activities. Starting out cold with just a baselayer and a windproof jacket might not be the most enjoyable thing, but the decision will quickly pay off after a few minutes of activity up a hill. When you then do get a break, you have a nice and dry thicker layer to put on rather than something soaked in sweat.
Perhaps the biggest thing for me as someone who haven’t done a whole lot of winter camping previously, and certainly not in exposed conditions, was how simple everything was made by having tents that you could put up by yourself, wearing thick gloves, in howling wind. Being in a nice and cosy shop this might not be the first thing you think off. But when all you want is to get out of the wind and cold for a brief respite, things are starting to look a bit different.